ATLANTA — With fewer medical school students choosing residencies in family medicine, Georgia is facing a shortage of family doctors.
Of the 385 students who graduated from medical schools in Georgia this spring, only 20 chose residencies in family medicine, half as many as five years ago.
‘‘The decline in the percentage of medical school graduates entering family medicine is cause for concern,’’ said Kelly McNamara, research and analysis manager for the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce.
Their ability to care for patients of all ages and to treat a variety of medical conditions often makes family doctors the primary health care providers in their communities, McNamara told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
More than a third of the state’s counties, many of them rural, are officially designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration as having a shortage of primary care professionals. The designation means that, on average, there is less than one doctor for 3,400 people. The state’s doctor shortage affects about 1.5 million people.
A recent study out of the University of Missouri School of Medicine shows that, because of an aging population and fewer doctors choosing primary care, there could be a nationwide shortage of about 44,000 primary care doctors by 2025.
Georgia currently needs 259 more doctors in underserved areas to solve the current shortage. To reach the HRSA’s ideal level of one doctor for every 2,000 people, Georgia would need 421 more doctors.
Of the 20 medical students in Georgia who chose to go into family medicine, only two stayed in the state for their residencies. Where students spend their residencies is important because doctors tend to establish themselves in the communities where they do their residencies.
‘‘You could make the argument that we want to keep graduates in the state for residency, but on the other hand, we want students to match in residency programs that are suited for them, regardless of where they are,’’ said Dr. Ruth-Marie Fincher, vice dean for academic affairs at MCG, the state’s only public medical school.
While many of Georgia’s newest doctors have chosen primary care fields such as internal medicine (22 percent) and pediatrics (15 percent), many end up choosing a subspecialty instead of practicing as generalists.
While American medical school graduates have shied away from family medicine residencies, international students are filling about 40 percent of those residencies, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Of the 70 people interviewed for the family medicine residency program at the Atlanta Medical Center this year, only four were from Georgia schools, said program director Dr. Frank Don Diego.
‘‘We’ve had to learn how to screen international medical school curriculums,’’ he said. ‘‘But we’re still producing excellent physicians to practice here in the state.’’